Pesticide Use in the United States
Did you know that pesticide exposure has been shown to cause diabetes? Pesticides include all of the substances used to control “pests”. These include herbicides (glyphosate, RoundUp, etc), insecticides, fungicides, nematicides, rodenticides, soil fumigants, plant growth regulators, defoliants, and desiccants. Pesticide use began in 1945, and became more commonly used on farms by 1960, and the U.S. applied 196.47 million pounds of pesticides per year to farms. Pesticide use increased to 630.03 million pounds per year by 1980. The 1980s and 1990s brought some change to the use of pesticides. The Environmental Protection Agency began requiring testing of adverse effects of acute exposure of pesticides, and changed procedures for pesticide applicators to minimize drift and environmental contamination.
Foods with Pesticides
There are 21 main food crops that compose 72% of agriculture in the United States. These crops include: apples, barley, corn, cotton, grapefruit, grapes, lemons, lettuce, peaches, peanuts, pears, pecans, potatoes, oranges, rice, sorghum, soybeans, sugarcane, sweet corn, tomatoes, and wheat. You can read more about the chemicals on produce in this article. Additional sources of pesticides can come from meat, which you can read more about in this article.
How Pesticides Cause Diabetes
Pesticides cause Hyperglycemia
Recent research on mice and rats have shown that exposure to insecticides causes hyperglycemia. The most documented insecticides include organochlorine pesticides (like DDT) and organophosphorus (chlorpyrifos) types. Previous studies have shown that insecticide induced hyperglycemia is temporary and the blood sugar level would reduce to the point of hypoglycemia which can cause insulin resistance. The results of the new study show that low doses of oral intake of this type of pesticide can contribute to the development of diabetes.
Pesticides Over-Stimulate Nerves
Organophosphate insecticides include chlorpyrifos (banned by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency in August 2021), diazinonare, dichlorvos, malathion, parathion, profenofos. Organophosphate pesticides are inhibitors of cholinesterases, resulting in hyper-stimulation of cholinergic nerves. Symptoms of over-stimulation of the cholinergic nerves include bradycardia (slow heart rate), vasodilation (widening of blood vessels), hypotension (low blood pressure), muscle tremors, and other neurologic symptoms. Organophosphates are one of the most common causes of poisoning worldwide, usually due to agricultural use or suicidal attempts. Unfortunately, organophosphate effects are not reversible, making treatment difficult. Acute toxicity and chronic toxicity have been reported against organophosphates. Repeated chronic exposure to organophosphates (like eating low amounts every day) has been reported to cause the same effects as acute toxicity. More research has been done on organophosphate insecticides than any other chemical, because has been the most commonly used insecticide since organochlorine insecticides (DDT) were banned by the US EPA in the 1970s due to environmental factors.
Pesticides Cause Liver and Pancreas Damage
Various types of pesticides cause the overstimulation of the nervous system, which causes the liver to increase glucose production to keep up with the high demand for energy. (The liver is responsible for glucose homeostasis.) The spike in glucose causes the pancreas to release insulin, to bring the glucose level back to a normal level. Over time, the insecticides causing excessive stimulation of the cholinergic receptors can disturb the insulin and glucagon secretions, and cause damage to the pancreas tissues. There are human and animal studies that found that insecticides can cause acute pancreatitis, altering insulin secretion regulation. Further studies of organophosphorus pesticides have also been found to cause an elevated body mass index (BMI) at an obese level in mice and rats. Chlorpyrifos residues have been found mostly on fruits and vegetables, which may cause difficulty with losing weight while eating foods with residues. You can read more about which foods have the highest levels of chlorpyrifos in this article.
Pesticides Hurt Your Gut Health
Exposure to pesticides has been proven to change gut flora, which can trigger metabolic changes, oxidative stress, and diseases. These diseases can include various types of diabetes like type 2 diabetes mellitus, gestational diabetes, and juvenile diabetes. Observational studies in rural India found a high prevalence of diabetes, and demonstrated that organophosphate exposure alters the gut microbiota which induces glucose intolerance causing an increased risk of diabetes. Testing feces and analyzing the host metabolic system showed that the intestinal microbia was degrading, which produces short-chain fatty acids that cause glucogenesis (the body producing glucose for energy, instead of obtaining glucose from food sources). Another study has found that as blood plasma levels of organophosphate increase, there is a corresponding increase in blood A1C levels. Further studies were performed on animals, which resulted in an increase in blood glucose levels after 60 days when fed a diet containing a low dose monocrotophos when compared to the control animals. The interesting part is that there was no notable variation in the food and water intake between the study participants, including the control group and the study group fed the low-dose pesticides. Somehow when fed the same diet and the same amount, the pesticide group had an overall higher blood glucose level, which became significantly higher after 180 days.
How to Improve Your Metabolic Health
- Get your labs checked. There are an estimated 7.3 million adults with undiagnosed diabetes. To prevent long term health effects from diabetes, get a regular checkup with labs. Yearly checkups and blood lab test are relatively cheap through primary health care providers, and there are a lot of health screenings events that provide the services for free (though a large employer, drug stores, etc). An A1C test provides a better overall picture of what your blood sugars run, but even a fasting glucose check will do.
- Live a healthy lifestyle. Keep your body weight at a healthy level, avoid a sedentary lifestyle, and reduce your mental stress. Take care of your body, it is the only one you get! If you have a genetic predisposition to diabetes, make sure you are not increasing your risk for developing diabtetes with your lifestyle factors. You may not be able to control your genetics, but you can control your behavior. Today’s world is loaded with tools to help prevent diabetes. Get a cheap step counter (Amazon Link) and make sure you are getting at least 10,000 steps per day. Use the free MyFitnessPal app to log your food and keep your sugar intake under the recommended 24 grams of sugar per day.
- Eat a healthy ORGANIC diet. One study has shown that eating a strictly organic diet has reduced the amount of specific pesticides in their urine within 1 week. Organic foods have less chemicals applied, however to go completely chemical free you need your own garden!
- Grow your own fruits and vegetables. Studies have shown that those who garden live on average 4.2 years longer than those who don’t. The lifestyle changes with starting a garden are 100% beneficial! Other recent studies have shown that young children that grow up gardening have better overall health, more diversified gut microbiome (better overall gut health), improved nutrient intake, and increased physical activity. They are also more likely to try nutritious foods when helping in the garden, when compared to store-bought foods.